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Blessed Is He Who Writes Without Using Smiley Faces – Ethics Daily

Bob Newell

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2014 6:12 am

Blessed Is He Who Writes Without Using Smiley Faces | Bob Newell, Facebook, Social Networking, Friendship, Relationships

Blessed is he or she whose written words can stand the light of clever inquisition without a preemptive smiley face, Newell writes.

Pity the elusive mouse who must struggle to disconnect himself in the minds of youthful humans from the ubiquitous, plasticized keyboard kind.

Does anyone any longer recognize the fundamental literary distinction between Walt’s beloved “Mickey” and some cordless, unconnected robot rodent? What have we done with our words? Rats!

Shame on the unwashed who thoughtlessly seem unable to differentiate the dissimilarity in essence that divides a computer keyboard and one played upon powerfully by Liberace or pounded upon forcefully by the fiery Jerry Lee Lewis.

Oh, how far has the never very noble Spam now fallen from its wartime usage as a marker for government-produced, cheap mixed meat to its contemporary reference to the unwanted and quickly-consigned-to-electronic-hell of today’s easy come, easy go communication.

And what has become of the serious obligation of equally serious deletion? Where is today’s cutting room floor?

Those who vociferously bemoan the disastrous decline in what was once considered polite, civil discourse might well spend a few well-chosen words of grief over the corruption of common communication.

In addition to the sharp descent of civil conversation in the public electronic square, is it grammatically correct always, insistently and increasingly to be angry?

“O, brother, where art thou?” Where have all the blessed beatitudes gone, “long time passing”? Blessed are those who need not place “LOL” after their messages to communicate their humorous intentions.

Blessed is he or she whose written words can stand the light of clever inquisition without a preemptive smiley face.

How sideways have become our smirking smiles, how crooked our occasional grinning communication.

Those that live by spell-check shall face an equal and equivalent death.

How curious has the malfeasance of our modern speech construction become. How “wearifying” the written art is fast de-evolving.

Perhaps nowhere is this language loss more obvious that the steep degradation of the treasured old-English word, “friend.”

“There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother,” it was once said and believed, in King James English; but modern friends seem to have little elasticity and even less “stickability.”

To be a Facebook kind of friend is unlike any previous species of genuine friendship and surely bears no resemblance to the Quaker kind. A true friend does not ask to be liked.

If it is sadly true that one can be “unfriended” and if friendship may indeed be a verb, isn’t it also true that authentic friendships are rarely so numerous as our electronic ones.

Real friends neither brag about their number nor boast of their political or ideological inclinations nor ruthlessly exclude those with whom they might potentially disagree.

Neither do they post only highly idealized or PhotoShopped versions of themselves solely for other so-called friends or groupies to admire.

It is actually rare for authentic friends to complain publicly to the unfriendly world of sleeplessness or send out detailed reports of intimate toilet habits to be shared with a host of so-called friends and many other unsuspecting passers-by.

If the tin-alley wordsmith once suggested of friendship that “it’s the perfect blend-ship,” there seems less and less to blend, so little longing for harmony.

Khalil Gibran, after all, said, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” But, in our days, we seek uniformity of thinking and conformity of doing from our erstwhile friends.

What thinkest thou? In our speech and written communication, can we be no more precise and selective than this? Can we not observe some boundaries?

Can we forego some less important things, in order to experience genuine communication with others? Can we, at least, think as much as we type?

When our words cannot be more properly managed, what hope is there for our ways?

Bob Newell is ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, ItsGreek2U, and is used with permission.

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Language Provides Lens for Social Analysis – Rev. Mike Massar

Language Provides Lens for Social AnalysisMike Massar
Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 4:37 am

I am certainly no prude when it comes to profanity, but I was taken aback by the crudeness of the dialogue. … I was haunted by what this has to say about our society these days, Massar writes. (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

I attended the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts several years ago, and the professor of my screenplay-writing class took pains to warn me about it ahead of time.

Knowing that I was a minister attending the course to study the comparisons between writing sermons and screenplays, she said to me, “Mike, in this seminar there will be a lot of scenes written and read that have profanity in them. I hope you won’t be too offended.”

I responded that I was a guest at the film school, and I fully understood the need for freedom of expression.

I also mentioned that I worked my way through college in the oil field and so had not led a sheltered, ivory-tower existence.

I was reminded of that experience last weekend when I went to see Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County.”

I had read several of the movie’s reviews and thought I was somewhat prepared for the sad story line. The truth is, I was not.

The movie is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen. And what made it even worse was the language employed.

There was hardly a conversation that wasn’t laced with some of the most vulgar profanity you’ve heard anywhere.

I am certainly no prude when it comes to profanity, but I was taken aback by the crudeness of the dialogue. Over the weekend, I was haunted by what this has to say about our society these days.

As I reflected on the film, I remembered an article that David Brooks wrote in The New York Times last May, noting how language is changing and what that seems to say about us.

Brooks said that a number of recent studies have been conducted based on a Google database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008.

The studies reveal that in the last half-century, individualistic words have been much more prevalent than words connected with community.

For example, words and phrases like “personalized,” “self,” “unique” and “I can do it myself” were used more frequently than words and phrases like “community,” “share,” “united,” “band together” and “common good.”

Brooks also noted a study where researchers found that words and phrases associated with moral excellence were on the decline.

“Virtue,” “decency,” “honesty,” patience,” “compassion,” “faith,” “humbleness” and “prudence” have all declined in use, along with words of gratitude, such as “thankfulness” and “appreciation.”

In concluding the article, Brooks said, “Evidence from crude data sets like these are prone to confirmation bias. People see patterns they already believe in. Maybe I’ve done that here. But these gradual shifts in language reflect tectonic shifts in culture. We write less about community bonds and obligations because they’re less central to our lives.”

Brooks’ insights, coupled with my movie experience, have left me a bit unsettled.

What does our language say about us? And, in thinking about the church, what does it have to say about our faith?

Why have words and phrases like “surrender,” “confess,” “reverence,” “take up your cross” and others diminished in the expressions of our faith?

I’m not sure, but I think I’m going to start paying closer attention to the language I use and what it might be saying about me and my faith. I hope you’ll join me.

Mike Massar is co-pastor of University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La. A version of this column first appeared in UBC’s weekly newsletter, The Window, and is used with permission.

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Norris Burkes: Trash Talk Goes to the Trash Can

Feb. 8, 2014   |  

Like many of you, I maintain a list of favorite things. For instance, my hamburger of choice is the mushroom burger. My preferred sport is football, and San Francisco is my most beloved city. Nothing on my list is too surprising except for a favorite trash can.

To understand why a wastepaper basket should inspire a spiritual column, you should understand that this particular bin sits in the office where I receive mail from my readers.

No, I don’t normally discard reader mail — far from it. Most of it comes from people sharing their personal stories or prayer requests; some of it from critical thinkers who ask that I reconsider my views.

This is the mail I share with my most critical reader, Mrs. Burkes. She will often explain how some of my readers were right and I was completely stupid. She loves me like that.

However, some missives are better suited for the blue recycle box. These letters begin with a bullying barrage of banalities and end with a litany of judgmental name-calling. As quickly as I recognize their hateful tone, I pitch them into the recycle box where I hope to see them reincarnated as daffodil stationery.

I’m not telling you this as a way of payback toward those nasty letter writers; I take them at their word that they no longer read the column.

I tell you this because, like me, you’ve known the sting of criticism from a passing acquaintance or rude co-worker who hasn’t bothered to know the real you. But unlike written criticism, verbal criticism that can’t be shredded.

How can you deal with such criticism? Allow me to share three strategies.

• Pray: Pray for two things. First, pray forgiveness for the critical person. Second, ask for wisdom to see and confess your part in the criticism. We do this because Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” It’s not what the prayer will do for the critical person; it’s what it’ll do for you. Prayer will also help you with the second strategy.

• Prioritize: Just as I sort the letters, you must sort criticism. Give the critique strong consideration only if it comes from someone who cares about the outcome of your life. In such a case, you must examine it for truth. There’s an old saying, “If one person calls you a donkey, ignore it. If three people call you a donkey, buy a saddle.” If the criticism comes from someone who wishes you harm, employ the next strategy.

• Purge: When it comes to the toxicity of negative criticism, look for the metaphorical equivalent to the trash can. Many of us purge through physical activity, such as gardening or hiking. Others use therapy pets.

I recommend purging with ritual or liturgy. For instance, take a moment to write the criticism onto paper. Fold it so no one can read it. Then, ask a family member, friend, or pastor to join you alongside a shredder. Ask your friend to pray that you’ll find the ability to let the hurtful words go. After saying, “amen,” run the paper through the shredder.

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Happy Valetine’s Day

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

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